The low radiation conditions and the predominantly phase-object image formation of cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) result in extremely high noise levels and low contrast in the recorded micrographs. The process of single particle or tomographic 3D reconstruction does not completely eliminate this noise and is even capable of introducing new sources of noise during alignment or when correcting for instrument parameters. The recently developed Digital Paths Supervised Variance (DPSV) denoising filter uses local variance information to control regional noise in a robust and adaptive manner. The performance of the DPSV filter was evaluated in this review qualitatively and quantitatively using simulated and experimental data from cryo-EM and tomography in two and three dimensions. We also assessed the benefit of filtering experimental reconstructions for visualization purposes and for enhancing the accuracy of feature detection. The DPSV filter eliminates high-frequency noise artifacts (density gaps), which would normally preclude the accurate segmentation of tomography reconstructions or the detection of alpha-helices in single-particle reconstructions. This collaborative software development project was carried out entirely by virtual interactions among the authors using publicly available development and file sharing tools.
cryo-EM; Digital paths; Filtering; Helix detection; Supervised classification; Remote collaboration
In this paper, we state our aims and aspirations for building a global network of likeminded people interested in developing and encouraging students in the field of computational biophysics (CB). Global capacity building efforts have uncovered local computational talent in virtually every community regardless of where the students reside. Our vision is to discover and encourage these aspiring investigators by suggesting ways that they and other “garage scientists” can participate in new science even if they have no access to sophisticated research infrastructure. We argue that participatory computing in the “cloud” is particularly suitable for CB and available to any budding computational biophysicist if he or she is provided with open-minded mentors who have the necessary skills and generosity. We recognize that there are barriers to the development of such remote collaborations, and we discuss possible pathways to overcome these barriers. We point out that this Special Issue of Biophysical Reviews provides a much-needed forum for the development of several specific applications of CB.
Computational biophysics; White paper; Cloud computing; Capacity building; Garage science; Global network
The molecular graphics program Sculptor and the command-line suite Situs are software packages for the integration of biophysical data across spatial resolution scales. Herein, we provide an overview of recently developed tools relevant to cryo-electron tomography (cryo-ET), with an emphasis on functionality supported by Situs 2.7 and Sculptor 2.1. We describe a work flow for automatically segmenting filaments in cryo-ET maps including denoising, local normalization, feature detection, and tracing. Tomograms of cellular actin networks exhibit both cross-linked and bundled filament densities. Such filamentous regions in cryo-ET data sets can then be segmented using a stochastic template-based search, VolTrac. The approach combines a genetic algorithm and a bidirectional expansion with a tabu search strategy to localize and characterize filamentous regions. The automated filament segmentation by VolTrac compares well to a manual one performed by expert users, and it allows an efficient and reproducible analysis of large data sets. The software is free, open source, and can be used on Linux, Macintosh or Windows computers.
Tomograms; 3D analysis; filament detection; actin networks; denoising; segmentation
Cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) enables the imaging of macromolecular complexes in near-native environments at resolutions that often permit the visualization of secondary structure elements. For example, alpha helices frequently show consistent patterns in volumetric maps, exhibiting rod-like structures of high density. Here, we introduce VolTrac (Volume Tracer) - a novel technique for the annotation of alpha-helical density in cryo-EM data sets. VolTrac combines a genetic algorithm and a bidirectional expansion with a tabu search strategy to trace helical regions. Our method takes advantage of the stochastic search by using a genetic algorithm to identify optimal placements for a short cylindrical template, avoiding exploration of already characterized tabu regions. These placements are then utilized as starting positions for the adaptive bidirectional expansion that characterizes the curvature and length of the helical region. The method reliably predicted helices with seven or more residues in experimental and simulated maps at intermediate (4–10 Å) resolution. The observed success rates, ranging from 70.6% to 100%, depended on the map resolution and validation parameters. For successful predictions, the helical axes were located within 2Å from known helical axes of atomic structures.
cryo-electron microscopy; intermediate resolution; extract alpha helices; annotate alpha helices; secondary structure elements
We describe an integrated software system called Sculptor that combines visualization capabilities with molecular modeling algorithms for the analysis of multi-scale data sets. Sculptor features extensive special purpose visualization techniques that are based on modern GPU programming and are capable of representing complex molecular assemblies in real-time. The integration of graphics and modeling offers several advantages. The user interface not only eases the usually steep learning curve of pure algorithmic techniques, but it also permits instant analysis and post-processing of results, as well as the integration of results from external software. Here, we implemented an interactive peak-selection strategy that enables the user to explore a preliminary score landscape generated by the colores tool of Situs. The interactive placement of components, one at a time, is advantageous for low-resolution or ambiguously shaped maps, which are sometimes difficult to interpret by the fully automatic peak selection of colores. For the subsequent refinement of the preliminary models resulting from both interactive and automatic peak selection, we have implemented a novel simultaneous multi-body docking in Sculptor and Situs that softly enforces shape complementarities between components using the normalization of the cross-correlation coefficient. The proposed techniques are freely available in Situs version 2.6 and Sculptor version 2.0.
multi-resolution modeling; multi-component registration; macromolecular assembly; cryo-electron microscopy; immersive visualization; haptic rendering
Epidermal growth factor receptors (EGFRs) and their cytoplasmic tyrosine kinases play important roles in cell proliferation and signaling. EGFR extracellular domain (sEGFR) forms a dimer upon the binding of ligands, such as epidermal growth factor (EGF) and transforming growth factor α (TGFα). In this study, multiple molecular dynamics (MD) simulations of the 2:2 EGF:sEGFR3–512 dimer and the 2:2 TGFα:sEGFR3–512 dimer were performed in solvent and crystal environments. The simulations of systems comprising up to half a million atoms reveal part of the structural dynamics that sEGFR dimers are capable of. The solvent simulations consistently exhibited a prominent conformational relaxation from the initial crystal structures on the nanosecond time scale, leading to a symmetry breaking and more extensive contacts between the two sEGFR monomers. In the crystal control simulation, this symmetry breaking and compaction was largely suppressed by crystal packing contacts. The simulations also provided evidence that the disordered domain IV of sEGFR may act as a stabilizing spacer in the dimer. Thus the simulations suggest that the sEGFR dimer can take diverse configurations in solvent environments. These biologically relevant conformations of the EGFR signal transduction network can be controlled by contacts among the structural domains of sEGFR and its ligands.
epidermal growth factor; transforming growth factor α; receptor; dimer; crystal packing; buttressing; spacer
Recent developments of the Situs software suite for multi-scale modeling are reviewed. Typical workflows and conventions encountered during processing of biophysical data from electron microscopy, tomography or small-angle X-ray scattering are described.
Situs is a modular program package for the multi-scale modeling of atomic resolution structures and low-resolution biophysical data from electron microscopy, tomography or small-angle X-ray scattering. This article provides an overview of recent developments in the Situs package, with an emphasis on workflows and conventions that are important for practical applications. The modular design of the programs facilitates scripting in the bash shell that allows specific programs to be combined in creative ways that go beyond the original intent of the developers. Several scripting-enabled functionalities, such as flexible transformations of data type, the use of symmetry constraints or the creation of two-dimensional projection images, are described. The processing of low-resolution biophysical maps in such workflows follows not only first principles but often relies on implicit conventions. Situs conventions related to map formats, resolution, correlation functions and feature detection are reviewed and summarized. The compatibility of the Situs workflow with CCP4 conventions and programs is discussed.
Situs; multi-resolution data
The registration of volumetric structures in real space involves geometric and density transformations that align a target map and a probe map in the best way possible. Many computational docking strategies exist for finding the geometric transformations that superimpose maps, but the problem of finding an optimal density transformation, for the purposes of difference calculations or segmentation, has received little attention in the literature. We report results based on simulated and experimental electron microscopy maps, showing that a single scale factor (gain) may be insufficient when it comes to minimizing the density discrepancy between an aligned target and probe. We propose an affine transformation, with gain and bias, that is parameterized by known surface isovalues and by an interactive centering of the “cancellation peak” in the surface thresholded difference map histogram. The proposed approach minimizes discrepancies across a wide range of interior densities. Owing to having only two parameters, it avoids overfitting and requires only minimal knowledge of the probe and target maps. The linear transformation also preserves phases and relative amplitudes in Fourier space. The histogram matching strategy was implemented in the newly revised volhist tool of the Situs package, version 2.6.
Difference mapping; discrepancy; volumetric maps; docking; electron microscopy; thick filament
This Meeting Review describes the proceedings and conclusions from the inaugural meeting of the Electron Microscopy Validation Task Force organized by the Unified Data Resource for 3DEM (http://www.emdatabank.org) and held at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ on September 28 and 29, 2010. At the workshop, a group of scientists involved in collecting electron microscopy data, using the data to determine three-dimensional electron microscopy (3DEM) density maps, and building molecular models into the maps explored how to assess maps, models, and other data that are deposited into the Electron Microscopy Data Bank and Protein Data Bank public data archives. The specific recommendations resulting from the workshop aim to increase the impact of 3DEM in biology and medicine.
The assumption of linear response of protein molecules to thermal noise or structural perturbations, such as ligand binding or detachment, is broadly used in the studies of protein dynamics. Conformational motions in proteins are traditionally analyzed in terms of normal modes and experimental data on thermal fluctuations in such macromolecules is also usually interpreted in terms of the excitation of normal modes. We have chosen two important protein motors — myosin V and kinesin KIF1A — and performed numerical investigations of their conformational relaxation properties within the coarse-grained elastic network approximation. We have found that the linearity assumption is deficient for ligand-induced conformational motions and can even be violated for characteristic thermal fluctuations. The deficiency is particularly pronounced in KIF1A where the normal mode description fails completely in describing functional mechanochemical motions. These results indicate that important assumptions of the theory of protein dynamics may need to be reconsidered. Neither a single normal mode nor a superposition of such modes yields an approximation of strongly nonlinear dynamics.
Biological cells use a variety of molecular machines representing enzymes, ion channels or pumps, and motors. Motor proteins are nanometer-size devices generating forces and actively moving or rotating under the supply of chemical energy through ATP hydrolysis. They are crucial for many cell functions and promising for nanotechnology of the future. Although such motors represent single molecules, their operation cycles cannot be followed in detail in simulations even on the best modern supercomputers and some approximations need to be employed. It is often assumed that conformational dynamics of motor proteins is well described within a linear response approximation and corresponds to excitation of normal modes. We have checked this assumption for two motor proteins, myosin V and kinesin KIF1A. Our results show that, while both these biomolecules respond by well-defined motions to energetic excitations, these motions are essentially nonlinear. The effect is particularly pronounced in KIF1A where relaxation proceeds through a sequence of qualitatively different conformational changes, which may facilitate complex functional motions without additional control mechanisms.
Situs is a modular and widely used software package for the integration of biophysical data across the spatial resolution scales. It has been developed over the last decade with a focus on bridging the resolution gap between atomic structures, coarse-grained models, and volumetric data from low-resolution biophysical origins, such as electron microscopy, tomography, or small-angle scattering. Structural models can be created and refined with various flexible and rigid body docking strategies. The software consists of multiple, stand-alone programs for the format conversion, analysis, visualization, manipulation, and assembly of 3D data sets. The programs have been ported to numerous platforms in both serial and shared memory parallel architectures and can be combined in various ways for specific modeling applications. The modular design facilitates the updating of individual programs and the development of novel application workflows. This review provides an overview of the Situs package as it exists today with an emphasis on functionality and workflows supported by version 2.5.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s12551-009-0026-3) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
Structural models; 3D data sets; Multi-platform; Modeling
Muscle contraction involves the interaction of the myosin heads of the thick filaments with actin subunits of the thin filaments. Relaxation occurs when this interaction is blocked by molecular switches on these filaments. In many muscles, myosin-linked regulation involves phosphorylation of the myosin regulatory light chains (RLC). Electron microscopy of vertebrate smooth muscle myosin molecules (regulated by phosphorylation) has provided insight into the relaxed structure, revealing that myosin is switched off by intramolecular interactions between its two heads, the free-head and the blocked head. Three-dimensional reconstruction of frozen-hydrated specimens reveals that this asymmetric head interaction is also present in native thick filaments of tarantula striated muscle. Our goal here has been to elucidate the structural features of the tarantula filament involved in phosphorylation-based regulation. A new reconstruction reveals intra- and intermolecular myosin interactions in addition to those seen previously. To help interpret the interactions, we sequenced the tarantula RLC, and fitted to the reconstruction an atomic model of the myosin head that included the predicted RLC atomic structure and an S2 crystal structure. The fitting suggests an intramolecular interaction between the cardiomyopathy loop of the free-head and its own S2 and two intermolecular interactions—between the cardio-loop of the free head and the ELC of the blocked head, and between the Leu-305 - Gln-327 “interaction loop” (loop I) of the free-head and the N-terminal fragment of the RLC of the blocked-head. These interactions, added to those previously described, would help to switch off the thick filament. Molecular dynamics simulations suggest how phosphorylation could increase the helical content of the RLC N-terminus, weakening these interactions, thus releasing both heads and activating the thick filament.
Myosin regulation; thick filament; cryo-EM; myosin regulatory light chain; phosphorylation
A multivariate statistical theory, local feature analysis (LFA), extracts functionally relevant domains from molecular dynamics (MD) trajectories. The LFA representations, like those of principal component analysis (PCA), are low dimensional and provide a reduced basis set for collective motions of simulated proteins, but the local features are sparsely distributed and spatially localized, in contrast to global PCA modes. One key problem in the assignment of local features is the coarse-graining of redundant LFA output functions by means of seed atoms. One can solve the combinatorial problem by adding seed atoms one after another to a growing set, minimizing a reconstruction error at each addition. This allows for an efficient implementation, but the sequential algorithm does not guarantee the optimal mutual correlation of the sequentially assigned features. Here, we present a novel coarse-graining algorithm for proteins that directly minimizes the mutual correlation of seed atoms by Monte Carlo (MC) simulations. Tests on MD trajectories of two biological systems, bacteriophage T4 lysozyme and myosin II motor domain S1, demonstrate that the new algorithm provides statistically reproducible results and describes functionally relevant dynamics. The well-known undersampling of large-scale motion by short MD simulations is apparent also in our model, but the new coarse-graining offers a major advantage over PCA; converged features are invariant across multiple windows of the trajectory, dividing the protein into converged regions and a smaller number of localized, undersampled regions. In addition to its use in structure classification, the proposed coarse-graining thus provides a localized measure of MD sampling efficiency.
In low resolution structures of biological assemblies one can often observe conformational deviations that require a flexible rearrangement of structural domains fitted at the atomic level. We are evaluating interpolation methods for the flexible alignment of atomic models based on coarse models. Spatial interpolation is well established in image-processing and visualization to describe the overall deformation or warping of an object or an image. Combined with a coarse representation of the biological system by feature vectors, such methods can provide a flexible approximation of the molecular structure. We have compared three well-known interpolation techniques and evaluated the results by comparing them with constrained molecular dynamics. One method, inverse distance weighting interpolation, consistently produced models that were nearly indistinguishable on the alpha carbon level from the molecular dynamics results. The method is simple to apply and enables flexing of structures by non-expert modelers. This is useful for the basic interpretation of volumetric data in biological applications such as electron microscopy. The method can be used as a general interpretation tool for sparsely sampled motions derived from coarse models.
Supplementary information: Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.
Proteins in the actin depolymerizing factor (ADF)/cofilin family are essential for rapid F-actin turnover, and most depolymerize actin in a pH-dependent manner. Complexes of human and plant ADF with F-actin at different pH were examined using electron microscopy and a novel method of image analysis for helical filaments. Although ADF changes the mean twist of actin, we show that it does this by stabilizing a preexisting F-actin angular conformation. In addition, ADF induces a large (∼12°) tilt of actin subunits at high pH where filaments are readily disrupted. A second ADF molecule binds to a site on the opposite side of F-actin from that of the previously described ADF binding site, and this second site is only largely occupied at high pH. All of these states display a high degree of cooperativity that appears to be an integral part of F-actin.
actin; ADF; cooperativity; electron microscopy; image processing